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Private Donation Would Help Fund Citizenship Applications

The Arlington County Board will debate accepting an anonymous donation from a resident to help immigrants pay filing fees on citizenship applications.

A private citizen made the $7,000 donation to the county’s Department of Human Services for a scholarship fund that will pay a portion of the costs to file an N-400 form, the Application for Naturalization.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s website, the filing fee is $640, with an extra $85 fee for biometric testing added in some cases for a total of $725.

USCIS waives the fee for applicants whose income is below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and reduces the fee for applicants whose income is between 151 percent and 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

But despite the waivers, county staff said that sometimes people can struggle to pay the reduced fees.

“However, some applicants who qualify for the reduced fee and other applicants who are required to pay the full fee still have difficulty paying for their application,” staff wrote in a report. “As a result, they often delay applying for naturalization even when they are eligible and prepared for their interview.”

Under the proposal, applicants at 151-200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines could receive a $200 scholarship, while those at 201-250 percent could get $360. Applicants’ income will be determined based on adjusted gross income, while they must prove county residency and show they reach USCIS’ English language proficiency guidelines.

Anyone who applies must make an appointment and meet in person for an interview at the Community Outreach Program at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street, Suite 523).

They would be notified within two weeks if they are successful, and would receive a check from DHS made out to USCIS. The applicant would then be responsible for mailing that check and the rest of the filing fee with their application.

Staff recommended the County Board approve the scholarship at its meeting Saturday (January 27).

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County Boosts Suicide Prevention Efforts, Launches Youth Program

Logo via Arlington CountyArlington County is stepping up its suicide prevention efforts in 2017, including launching a pilot program aimed specifically at youth.

The county’s Dept. of Human Services is enhancing its suicide prevention strategies based on the Zero Suicide initiative. The overall goal is to reduce the number of suicides in the county — there were 41 reported between 2013 an 2015 — to zero and improve care and outcomes for those seeking help.

Over the summer some county staff attended a seminar to learn more about implementing the Zero Suicide methods. They’ve applied the strategies and have been teaching other employees about them so everyone is on the same page in the new year.

After an assessment earlier this year, staff discovered inconsistencies in the suicide prevention knowledge and responses among the different divisions within DHS, says Sharon Lawrence, Children’s Behavioral Healthcare bureau chief.

“We wanted to establish a universal approach to make sure that we’re addressing suicide,” Lawrence says.

Part of the revamped approach is to step up training and to ensure all relevant DHS staff members are comfortable handling suicide-related discussions and situations.

In addition, the Children’s Behavioral Healthcare division is spearheading one of the major Zero Suicide-related programs in the new year: a pilot to assess the treatment model and address youth “suicidality,” both in identifying those at risk and in ongoing treatment of those individuals. As part of the pilot the division is implementing the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale, which includes plain-language questions that make it easier for staff to identify young people who are at risk of self-harm and to have more productive follow-up visits.

One reason the department chose to focus on youth for the pilot is that suicide is one of the top three leading causes of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Plus, local survey results released in 2014 indicated that 25 percent of Arlington 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks at a time.

“In the past year-and-a-half we have trained over 300 people in Arlington, including in the schools, to be able to identify when a young person is at risk of harm and may be in distress,” Lawrence says.

Overall, the new methods are “basically a commitment to provide better suicide prevention strategies and tools to DHS staff,” Lawrence says. “Suicide deaths are preventable, that’s the basis of Zero Suicide. The only way to prevent it is by implementing strategies that speak to leadership in terms of the culture you’re setting for staff and the community, [and by] providing training.”

The Department of Human Services’ increased push for suicide prevention also involves asking residents to give feedback via a short online survey about existing services, suicide prevention training and any unaddressed needs.

Lawrence says everyone should speak up if they encounter a person at risk of self-harm, whether it’s a young person or an adult. She suggests thinking of it like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign.

“People say ‘I don’t know what to say.’ It’s best to say something so you don’t ever feel like you missed an opportunity [to help],” says Lawrence.

She explains that it’s okay not to directly address a person at risk of self-harm. It’s sometimes better to first talk to someone with knowledge of handling such situations, like a counselor or teacher. But Lawrence reiterates the importance of not staying silent.

“There’s always help. There is help in Arlington County,” she says.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911 or the Department of Human Services’ emergency services line at 703-228-5160. CrisisLink also has a 24-hour crisis hotline at 703-527-4077 or 800-SUICIDE, or text 703-940-0888.

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County Board Rips ‘Troubling’ Proposed Child Care Regulations

Play area at the Rosslyn Children's Center(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Arlington County has taken a proposed update to its child care regulations off its website after County Board members called the inclusion of certain controversial provisions “troubling.”

As ARLnow.com first reported Monday, the most recent draft of the child care regulations would have required child care centers to encourage mothers to breastfeed and would have dictated what type of milk, juice and birthday treats could be fed to children, among other provisions.

That’s in addition to new staffing and employee education requirements that panicked the operators of small and part-time child care centers, who said such rules would put them out of business or at least drive up the cost of daycare and preschool programs.

“This situation, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s really the most troubled roll-out of a county initiative since the ill-conceived and ill-fated Public Land for Public Good,” said County Board member John Vihstadt. “I really think that this is close to an unmitigated disaster. If our goal is to increase the supply and the affordability of child care throughout Arlington County, this in my view seems to do exactly the opposite.”

DHS Director Anita Friedman on 2/23/16Anita Friedman, Director of Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, said the creation of the new regulations is an “iterative” process that has been underway since 2014, with input from directors of child care centers and consultation from a Kentucky-based nonprofit association.

Despite what she described as a positive public outreach process, Friedman acknowledged that there has been “a lot” of negative feedback, particularly from owners of smaller child care centers and the parents who use them.

“There are some issues with the current version,” she told the Board. “In some places, I think, because some of the enthusiasm of the child care centers and our Arlington Way of striving for the best, we may have probably overreached in terms of the best practices that we want to incorporate in there, that don’t belong in the code.”

That didn’t satisfy new County Board member Katie Cristol, who included affordable child care as part of her policy platform. She called the inclusion of some of the provisions “silly season business.”

Katie Cristol“At a time when we have young families leaving this county because it costs as much if not more to have your child in daycare as it does to pay rent… I think we have broader concerns than making sure kids have the absolute best environment,” Cristol said.

“This is really troubling to see this level of best practice conflated with code and with regulation,” she continued. “I am not comfortable inserting unbidden county government in encouraging anybody to tell a mother how to feed her child, whether that’s best practice or regulation.”

“Distraction is not a strong enough word for the real issue at play here. We have been hearing loud and clear from members of our community that this undermines trust in government. It exacerbates a sentiment that Arlington is hostile to child care centers and small businesses.”

With County Board members speaking out against the changes, County Manager Mark Schwartz stepped in part-way into the discussion to say that the draft regulations would be taken down from the county website, while the county continues to seek input by other means.

Arlington’s child care ordinance, Chapter 52 of county code, was last updated in 1981 but was mostly written in the 1960s. In 2013, then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget-cutting proposal to adopt Virginia’s child care regulations and eliminate three county regulators was met with widespread parent outrage. The proposal was eventually scrapped, though Friedman noted that returning to state regulations — which are more up-to-date than Arlington’s current code — is an option the Board could consider.

Friedman said that the next update to Chapter 52 would likely carve out exceptions for small and part-time child care center — by state law, religious-run child care centers are already exempt from local regulation — and would move some of the aspirational “best practice” provisions from county code to perhaps a best practices manual.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey questioned how such provisions made it into even a draft proposal.

“Some [are] upset that anyone thought this was a good idea,” she said. “Some really important judgement kind of wasn’t exercised here. That’s something that was concerning.”

Garvey and other Board members were careful to say that the provisions were well-intentioned, created by “people of goodwill.”

“I think some of them might not have the best judgment, I’m hoping we take care of that,” said Garvey. ‘There’s much to do. This needs to come down for now. Some judgment needs to be exercised before something goes back up.”

Friedman noted that there has been critical coverage of the policy update from ARLnow.com and other media outlets.

“There are a lot of people commenting… and there’s a lot of stuff on ARLnow, God bless them they think they have their pulse on the finger, but they usually don’t say a nice word about most things,” she said.

Both Schwartz and Friedman took responsibility for the botched policy process.

“Let me first apologize to the Board if we have caused you to lose faith in our department or in our ability to carry this through,” Friedman said. “It is not a simple thing to change code, and indeed we went into it somewhat naively and maybe overzealously… I accept full responsibility for this mess.”

Friedman said “we can push larger child care centers to higher achievement because they have the resources” but that her department doesn’t want to leave smaller centers behind. “Some of the overreaching has occurred,” she acknowledged.

“We are appropriately chastened by some of the comments you made,” Schwartz said. “We will get it right.”

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Child Care Providers Should Encourage Moms to Breastfeed, Says Proposed County Regs

Play area at the Rosslyn Children's Center

Daycare and preschool providers in Arlington are decrying proposed new child care regulations as overly onerous and intrusive.

A 34-page draft of new child care center regulations would set stringent requirements for employee education, require food handling certificates for handing out snacks and would require providers to encourage mothers to breast feed, among numerous other regulatory provisions.

Child care providers — particularly small, part-time operators — are speaking out against the the changes to Chapter 52 of County Code via the county’s online “open comment tool.”

“This document was supposed to clarify things, however, it created more issues,” said one comment.

Many comments focused on new education requirements for the teachers and assistant directors at child care centers. They would have to have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or a similar major and “at least 9 semester credits of advanced study in child development or early childhood education.” Current teachers would have three years to meet that requirement.

The education requirement could financially burden employees, who may have to go back to school to get the necessary credits, and could burden child care centers by raising the cost of hiring new employees,  providers said.

“Have you considered the impact this would have on preschools and just how difficult finding teachers with these very narrow qualifications will be?” said one comment. “As former preschool board member who was in charge of hiring for two years, I can tell you that finding highly qualified teachers who are willing to work for preschool pay is already very challenging. You add these new rules and and two thirds of our EXCEPTIONAL staff would not be qualified to teach.”

“I am sure these regulations are well-intentioned and meant to foster excellent Arlington preschools,” said another. “But we already have excellent Arlington preschools. The effect of some of these costly new requirements will be to drastically increase costs, making these excellent schools inaccessible financially for some area families.”

Providers also questioned a requirement that they have a certified food handler on staff if they serve or store food.

“If we need to obtain a license for teachers to distribute Goldfish crackers, this would be unduly burdensome,” said a daycare provider. “We are a part-time center and children are required to bring their lunches from home. The only food we give them are snacks and milk for lunches, if requested.”

Operators of part-time cooperative preschools and daycare centers, which are run largely by volunteers, said that such schools should be exempt from the provisions. Staffing requirements that require specific child-to-adult ratios but only count paid staff, while also prohibiting volunteers from being alone with children, would make it “virtually impossible for parent cooperative preschools to function,” said one commenter.

Some of the most incredulous commentary was reserved for provisions that daycare providers viewed as unnecessary for child safety and overly prescriptive. Among them:

  • “The licensee will ensure that mothers are encouraged to breast feed their infants.”
  • “The interior of the building must be finished in light or bright colors…”
  • “Celebrations (birthdays, special occasions) should include mostly healthy foods or non-food treats.”
  • “Children two years of age and older will be served only skim or 1% pasteurized milk.”
  • “Staff will promote dental hygiene among children at mealtimes.”
  • “Only full-strength (100%) pasteurized fruit juice or full-strength juice diluted with water from a cup will be served to children twelve months of age or older.”
  • “… All cribs, cots and mats must be spaced a minimum of 3 feet (36 inches) apart.”
  • “[Providers must have a plan for] acquiring, stockpiling, storing and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies needed to care for children and staff for up to 3 days if shelter-in-place is required…”
  • “The licensee will ensure that a trained staff member shall conduct and document a health check of each child every morning upon arrival.”
  • “In addition to the application document, the [child care center] must submit… a business plan.”
  • “A licensee will have specific arrangements with a health care provider who will provide consultation on both routine and emergency health care issues for children.”

“I feel there is overreach regarding such topics as paint colors in classrooms, types of milk/juice to use, amount of outdoor time and number of snacks within a half day program,” said a commenter. “I also think that each preschool should be free to develop its own core philosophy and goals for their specific program.”

“I prefer we are not mandated to get involved with individual decisions,” one said in response to the breastfeeding provision. “Stating centers will support only gets into a very sticky violation if a mother tells an inspector my center director did not mention I should… Doctors should tell mothers what to do with their bodies, not center directors. Strike this reg. It is completely none of our business. This is definitely a reg that is invasive and intrusive to women.”

“I am starting to think this document is a joke,” one said about the celebration food provision. “This is intrusive. Birthday treats are not a health and safety issue. Celebrating a birthday is a cultural experience and should not be county regulated.”

Kurt Larrick, spokesman for Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, says the update to the county’s child care regulations is necessary and “a lengthy, iterative process that is not even close to over.”

“The current code was written in the late sixties and has not been updated since 1981, so it was dated and due for some revisions – a lot has changed over the past 50 years,” he told ARLnow.com. “We began the process of updating Chapter 52 in February of 2014. The goal always has been to create a code that (1) establishes standards that help protect the health, safety and well-being of children in child care centers in Arlington County and (2) provides a business-friendly framework that supports the community’s needs for quality child care options.”

He continued:

We have used many tools to make our process open, participatory and inclusive to stakeholders and the entire community (meetings, online feedback, work groups, soliciting comments via e-mail, etc.). In response to feedback received this week, we have extended the comment period on the current iteration of the draft to March 31. This will ensure that all stakeholders have ample opportunity to share their thoughts on the draft.

The current comment period has shined a light on some areas of the draft code that require closer examination. That’s how the process is intended to work. Accordingly, the next iteration of the draft code will potentially include modifications in several key areas:

  • Grandfathering staff whose hiring predates certain credentialing requirements
  • Revisiting requirements related to access to medical care
  • Clarifying adult-student ration requirements for cooperative preschools

Again, this is a lengthy process and we aren’t at the finish line by a long shot. The next draft will reflect the feedback we’ve received from parents, child care providers and other community members. And we’ll solicit feedback once again. The bottom line is we want a code that protects children while not being overly burdensome on child care providers. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the providers to achieve our goals.

Arlington County has a child care page on its website and is soliciting feedback online.

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‘Secret Santa’ Makes $10,000 Donation for Arlington Families in Need

Santa Claus (via Macy's)One generous — and anonymous — Arlington resident has donated thousands of dollars to assist fellow community members in need this holiday season.

A man donated $10,000 to the Department of Human Services’ Secret Santa initiative, a program that collects donations of gift cards from area stores to be distributed throughout the community.

DHS Communications Manager Kurt Larrick has organized the program since 2007. He was called to the front desk after he was told a gentleman had questions about the program.

“I was a little worried at first, but he only had three simple questions for me,” Larrick recalled.

First, the man wanted to know who, specifically, donations assist to ensure money donated stays in the community. Larrick confirmed the donations are strictly for Arlington residents, including low-income families, children in foster care, seniors and people with disabilities.

Next, he asked if any overhead or administrative costs would be taken from the total donation amount. Larrick said he again seemed to give a satisfactory answer, explaining that all donations that come in “go right back out.”

Finally, the man asked if there was a donation limit. Upon hearing there wasn’t, he said he wanted to write a check for $10,000.

“I told him that would be incredible,” Larrick said. “He was a really nice, kind gentleman.”

That $10,000 will be used to purchase hundreds of gift cards for local grocery, clothing, convenience and department stores.

Though the soft deadline for the collection has passed, Larrick said interested residents are still encouraged to contribute to the cause by mailing or hand-delivering donations to DHS.

Last year, the Secret Santa program raised $54,000 in gift cards and donations, and Larrick expects this year’s final count to be about the same. He added the program is mostly supported by small donations from community members of all ages — which are important no matter the amount.

“This donation was obviously huge and very generous,” he said. “But for every donation, big or small, there’s always a great story behind it.”

File photo via Macy’s

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Man Dies After Collapsing in Taxi by Dept. of Human Services

Police and paramedics were called to Arlington’s Department of Human Services after a man collapsed and suffered an apparent cardiac arrest in a taxi.

The incident happened just after 2 p.m., outside the DHS building at 2100 Washington Blvd. The man — a 65 year old Arlington resident, according to scanner traffic — was in a Red Top Cab when the driver saw that he was suffering a medical emergency and pulled over.

“The driver noticed that [the passenger] was slumped over in between the seats,” said Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Alvin Guice.

The driver checked on the man and found that he didn’t have a pulse. Someone then ran to the DHS front desk and screamed “call 911,” according to a witness.

“We called 911 to respond to a building visitor who appeared to be in distress,” said DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick.

Passersby helped to pull the man out of the cab so they could render aid, the witness said. By the time paramedics arrived, someone was performing CPR on him. Medics took over and continued performing CPR as they rushed the man to Virginia Hospital Center, where doctors were unable to resuscitate him.

“Unfortunately, he was pronounced [deceased] at the hospital,” Guice said.

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Fumes Close Dept. of Human Services Offices

Sequoia Plaza Dept. of Human Services building (photo via Arlington County)One of the buildings used by Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services is closed today due to construction-related fumes.

Earlier this morning the fire department was called to the Stambaugh Human Services Center Building at 2100 Washington Blvd — also known as Sequoia Plaza building one — to investigate “strong fumes” that were making some employees feel ill.

Firefighters determined that the fumes were coming from an epoxy floor sealant.

DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick said the following DHS offices will be remain closed Monday but are expected to reopen tomorrow:

  • Housing Assistance Services, including Housing Grant, Housing Choice Voucher and Real Estate Tax Relief programs
  • Community Assistance Bureau and Public Assistance Bureau services
  • Public Health clinics
  • Child and family services and aging and disability services (All hotlines are still active)

The Arlington Employment Center Resource Room services will be available on the fifth floor of the Arlington Mill Community Center from 1-4 p.m. today, Larrick noted.

Photo via Arlington County

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New Grant to Help Keep People With Mental Illness Out of Jail

CIT Logo via Arlington CountyArlington’s Department of Human Services will now be able to staff its Mental Health Crisis Intervention Center around the clock thanks to a state grant.

DHS received a $222,225 grant, from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, to hire a mental health therapist and a human services specialist, according to a County Board report. The new positions will help keep the Crisis Intervention Center staffed 24 hours a day instead of having on-call staff, said Kurt Larrick, a spokesman with DHS.

“Live coverage is critical in providing individuals in mental health crisis with timely access to services, assessments and treatment, and it helps ensure that law enforcement officers are able to return to service in a timely manner,” according to the Board report.

Police officers will drop off people they suspect have serious mental illnesses at the Crisis Intervention Center, where staff can help connect them with needed services, helping those with possible mental illness to get help instead of jail time.

The center is part of the Crisis Intervention Team, a partnership between DHS and the Arlington County Police Department to help train officers in handling those with suspected mental illnesses and combating mental health stigma.

As of July 23, more than half of ACPD officers were trained to be part of CIT. The training also extends to airport and Pentagon police, as well as other police forces in Northern Virginia and D.C., according to the CIT website.

While CIT has received funding before, this time it had to apply for the grant, Larrick said.

“We have received funding support from the state for this program in the past, but in this instance it was a competitive grant for which we applied and were chosen based on the merits of our program,” he said.

The Crisis Intervention Center has already seen success. There was a 19 percent increase of people brought to the center instead of jail from 2012 to 2014, and the county saves about $5,620 per person with a serious mental illness by keeping them out of jail, according to the Board report.

“Allowing people with serious mental illness to receive treatment in the community as opposed to in a correctional setting, where they are unnecessarily criminalized, results in improved outcomes for the individual in crisis and significant cost savings,” according to the report.

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Morning Notes

Cycling on the Mt. Vernon Trail (Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk)

Rep. Beyer Holding Taylor Swift Fundraiser — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is holding a fundraiser with 15-20 guests at tonight’s Taylor Swift concert in D.C. The National Journal says Beyer is “Congress’ biggest Taylor Swift fan.” The Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans pounced on that headline for a punny press release. “When it comes to the national debt and big government regulations, Millennials want to ‘shake it off,'” the AFCYRs wrote. [National Journal, AFCYR]

Arlington Appoints DHS Director — Arlington County Dept. of Human Services deputy director Anita Friedman is getting a promotion. Friedman has been appointed as head of the department by Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz, less than two weeks after Schwartz took over for now-retired County Manager Barbara Donnellan. [Arlington County]

Rosslyn Metro Center Building Sold — The 22-story office building atop the Rosslyn Metro station has sold for $180 million. Rosslyn Metro Center, located at 1700 N. Moore Street, may be due for renovations following the sale. [Washington Business Journal]

Washingtonian Lauds ARLnow — ARLnow.com, along with its sister sites Borderstan, Hill Now and Reston Now, have been honored as the “Best News Blogs” in the D.C. area by Washingtonian. “Obsessive (but not mind-numbing) reporting on communities paid off,” the magazine said of our company’s expansion. Thank you to the staff of Washingtonian for this honor. [Washingtonian]

Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk

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Housing Homeless Vets in the Shadow of the Pentagon

Former Army Cpl. Alvin HillFormer Army Cpl. Alvin Hill just renewed his lease on an apartment on 8th Road S. in Arlington, almost a year after he originally moved into his home.

For 20 years before that, Hill, who served in New Mexico, Italy and Nuremburg, Germany, was chronically homeless. He had lived on family’s couches and floors, and when he could no longer do that, he slept on the streets of D.C., in shelters in Alexandria and in 24-hour laundromats along Columbia Pike. There were nights he slept in Reagan National Airport, he said; anywhere with a roof and unlocked doors.

Last June, the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, after working with Hill for months getting his finances and documentation in order, found Hill an apartment, secured housing subsidies and provided support to make sure he sustained himself there.

“Housing is the key to ending homelessness,” A-SPAN Executive Director Kathy Sibert told ARLnow.com from her office yesterday. “A lot of the things people take for granted, but just getting up, getting a meal, having clean clothes, maintaining your hygiene, that can take an hour when you’re in a home. When you live on the streets, it could take all day.”

Now, Hill has a place to live and a place to take care of his infant son, who suffers from cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock attention.

Hill’s plight was far from unique in Arlington and around the country. January’s point-in-time homeless count revealed there are 239 homeless individuals and family in the county, 19 of whom are veterans. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), 12 percent of all homeless people in the U.S. are veterans, about 50,000 total on any given night.

“You come out [of the military] and you’re lost,” Hill said. “In the Army, everyone did everything for you. You didn’t develop skills you need to make your own decisions.”

Homlessness becomes the new normal, he said. Waking up, finding the places that are giving out food, panhandling for money to buy drinks, and finding a safe sleeping spot; all of it becomes a routine that is increasingly difficult to break.

Kathy Sibert of A-SPAN“You can try to change, but for veterans will mental issues, it just takes one incident of something not happening for you, and you go right back into that mode,” he said. Even for homeless people with jobs, finding a place to live is not as easy as it sounds.

To get an apartment, you need valid ID, and proof of income. Hill, who had no need for a car and no place to store files, needed to get a valid ID. For that, he needed a birth certificate, another piece of documentation lost with his home. He needed to apply for a copy of the birth certificate and a copy of his social security cards. All of the ID applications cost money — money he did not have.

That, he said, is how he wound up on the streets for the better part of two decades. Once he relocated himself to Arlington, he immediately found A-SPAN, and the nonprofit immediately got to work finding him a home.

“Veterans don’t broadcast to each other ‘this is where you find the help you need,'” Hill said. “But when I came to Arlington, everyone knew A-SPAN.”

Last year, Arlington completed its successful 100 Homes campaign, housing more than 100 of its chronically homeless. It was part of a nationwide 100,000 homes campaign, which, when it concluded last June, wound up housing 108,000 people. Hill was honored with a ceremony in D.C. — he was the 100,000th person housed in the campaign.

Hill was one of 16 veterans Arlington housed in the campaign, Sibert said. By 2015, the White House has set a goal of effectively eliminating veteran homelessness in the country, and all homelessness by 2016. The initiative, called Zero:2016, is already off to a good start: according to the NCHV, veteran homelessness has been reduced by 70 percent since 2005.

“We’ve made great strides in eliminating homelessness among the veterans in our community, but we are not resting on our laurels,” Arlington Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick said. “Earlier this year Arlington signed on as part of the national Zero:2016 initiative to house homeless veterans and the chronically homeless. The recently completed 100 Homes Campaign not only got many of our most vulnerable people off the streets or out of shelters and into stable housing, it forged stronger ties across the entire continuum of care and taught us how to tap into important resources to help house vets. We’re taking the lessons learned from 100 Homes and using them to make Zero:2016 a success.”

Despite the fact that Arlington is a veteran-dense county, its veteran homelessness rate is below the national average. Sibert said that’s not necessarily because the Pentagon is a neighbor, instead it’s because everyone in the county recognizes the urgency.

“There are a lot of people here with military backgrounds,” she said. “Arlington as a whole is a caring community, and that extends to our veterans, too.”

File photo, bottom

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JUST IN: Arlington Human Services Director to Retire

Susanne Eisner (Photo via Arlington County)(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Arlington Department of Human Services Director Susanne Eisner is retiring, ARLnow.com has learned.

Eisner will leave her post at the end of May, DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick confirmed. She is the latest high-level Arlington staffer to retire, following Police Chief Doug Scott’s announcement in January and County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s announcement last Friday.

Eisner has been with DHS for more than 30 years, joining the Arlington Employment Center in 1984 and working her way up to director in 2005. Although the timing is conspicuous after Donnellan’s announcement last week, a source tells ARLnow.com there’s “nothing sinister here” and that Eisner is just hoping to travel with her new husband.

Eisner immigrated to the United States when she was 8 years old and worked as an immigrant counselor before she joined DHS, her biography says. In DHS, she has served as chief of the Economic Independence Division and served for three years as DHS deputy director before taking over the top job from Marsha Allgeier.

“She is proud to have completed the consolidation of all DHS services here at Sequoia Plaza (Public Health and Behavioral Health are joining us here this summer, joining the rest of the programs that came her in 2010) and maximizing the integration of human services in a centralized location,” Larrick said in an email. She is “also proud of all the work the department has done to strengthen, protect and empower Arlingtonians in need.”

The county has not formally announced Eisner’s retirement. It’s unclear who will take over the department when she leaves her position.

Photo via Arlington County

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Temporary Homeless Shelter Opens, Permanent Shelter Coming in Spring

Sleeping quarters in Arlington County's emergency winter shelterThe county’s Emergency Winter Shelter (EWS) opens for the 2014-2015 season tomorrow (Saturday). This will be the final season for the EWS, as the permanent homeless shelter under construction in Courthouse is set to open in spring.

The EWS will be open for vulnerable residents every day from 4:00 p.m.-9:00 a.m., through March 31. Hours may be extended on especially cold days, which happened during last season’s cold snap. The temporary facility at 2049 15th Street N. accommodates up to 74 people and other nearby facilities can be used as overflow during severe weather.

Arlington County funds the EWS and it is operated by the nonprofit Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), under the supervision  of the county’s Department of Human Services. It provides homeless residents with facilities for sleeping, eating, showering and doing laundry.

A-SPAN also will operate the new Homeless Services Center (2020 14th Street N.) when it opens, which is expected to be in April.

“We are anticipating a seamless transition,” said Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “A-SPAN will continue to be the service provider and they’ve demonstrated they are great at what they do.”

Rendering of Arlington's new Human Services CenterThe goal for employees of the new Homeless Services Center is not only to house homeless residents, but also to identify and tackle the issues that drove a person to homelessness. County agencies and nonprofit partners will continue to provide resources such as employment training, financial management assistance, and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.

“We’ve got a head start on this even before the new center opens – it’s essentially the same approach we used for the recently completed 100 Homes Campaign,” said Larrick. “It’s the approach we use in our Permanent Supportive Housing Programs – where we get the housing piece in place and then ensure that people get the supports they need to maintain their housing.”

In February, the County Board approved a $6.6 million contract for the new Homeless Services Center, and construction began in April. Right now, workers are continuing to repair weather-damaged columns in the former open parking area under part of the second floor. This known issue was part of the contract. Once the building inspector approves the fixes, workers can removed the extra steel supports installed to carry building loads during repairs, and move on to the next phase. Construction is scheduled to wrap up in March, in time for the April opening.

When finished, the shelter will house 50 year round beds on the third floor, with room for an additional 25 beds during the winter. The second floor will have a kitchen and dining area, in addition to a day room and offices for counseling. Floors four through seven will be converted to county offices at a later date.

Construction updates will be posted online.

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Foster Parents Needed

Arlington logoArlington County is asking for more people to sign up to be foster parents, and it’s holding an information session next week for those who might be interested.

There are currently about 90 children in Arlington in need of the temporary living arrangement foster families provide. These children are unable to live in their homes for a variety of reasons, such as abuse, neglect or severe family problems. Children may need to stay with a foster family for just a few days or months, or for years.

“We know that it takes a special set of skills to parent a child that’s not your own or has been abused or neglected,” said Alissa Green, Arlington County Resource Family Coordinator.

A particular need exists for families with diverse cultural backgrounds.

“The children who are in care, much like Arlington itself, is a very diverse group. But we have a limited number of minority foster parents,” said Green. “We don’t match children with families based on race, but we like to try to match them culturally, if possible.”

Families willing to take in sibling groups and teenagers also are in high demand. More than 50 percent of Arlington’s foster children are age 13 or older.

The goal is to get foster children back with their families as soon as it’s safely possible. However, sometimes that isn’t the best option and the foster children may be adopted. All parents who qualify to foster in Arlington also are qualified to adopt a child, should the occasion arise.

“Our goal is to find a permanent plan for these kids as soon as possible,” said Green.

The fostering information session will be next Saturday (November 8) from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at 2100 Washington Blvd. Anyone interested in attending is asked to RSVP by calling 703-228-1550, or by emailing Erica Serrano at [email protected] Potential foster parents can fill out paperwork at the session, and the next step is to schedule formal training.

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‘100 Homes Campaign’ Reaches Goal

100 Homes logo (via Arlington County website)(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) Arlington County is celebrating a milestone in its efforts to end homelessness. The county’s “100 Homes Campaign” reached its goal of housing 100 homeless Arlingtonians.

The achievement will be celebrated tonight at the annual Community Meeting on Homelessness. The public is welcome to attend the event, which will be held at the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center (4301 Wilson Blvd) from 7:00-8:30 p.m. John Harvey, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, will be the keynote speaker. He will talk about Virginia’s efforts to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year. Other speakers include County Board members and State Senator Barbara Favola.

County staff worked with nonprofit organizations to find housing for the people selected for 100 Homes. The following programs allowed for the housing:

  • Arlington County Permanent Supportive Housing — 63 housed
  • Housing Grant or Housing choice voucher — 12 housed
  • Veterans (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Voucher) — 11 housed
  • Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing — 13 housed
  • Mary Marshall Assisted Living Residence — 1 housed

“This is an important milestone in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness,” said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette. “It’s wonderful to see residents, nonprofit groups, faith-based organizations, the business community and County government coming together to make a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Of the 100 residents housed since the program launched in 2011, 93 continue to live in the housing. Many of them had been on the streets for years and had difficulty accessing and maintaining housing.

“The retention rate has been remarkable,” said Kathy Sibert, president and chief executive officer of Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN). “The key to this success is the supportive services that come with the housing. Case managers have done an outstanding job working with the clients to address issues like managing finances, maximizing employment and benefits, and connecting with mental health and substance abuse services.”

Just because the 100 Homes Campaign reached its goal does not mean the push to end homelessness in Arlington is finished. There will be a new initiative announced at tonight’s public meeting, called “Zero: 2016.” Arlington is joining the nationwide effort to end veteran and chronic homelessness.

“The [100 Homes] legacy will live on,” said Arlington Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “We learned a lot during the campaign, and partnered with a lot of great nonprofits, and we are carrying forward a lot of the concepts we learned.”

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Arlington DHS Could Move All Programs to Sequoia Plaza

Stambaugh Human Services Center (Photo via Arlington DHS)The Arlington Department of Human Services could consolidate more than 80,000 square feet of existing facilities around the county into its headquarters at Sequoia Plaza (2100 Washington Blvd).

The Arlington County Board will decide next Tuesday whether to approve leasing an additional 72,742 square feet in the three buildings at Sequoia Plaza — 3,469 square feet in Sequoia Plaza Building 1, 10,994 square feet in Building 2 and all 58,279 square feet of Building 3. The county’s lease for this space, in additional to a renewal of the current 144,740 square feet it occupies in Building 1, would run through June 2030.

The additional space will occupy DHS programs currently housed in five buildings around the county, including three within walking distance of Virginia Hospital Center. The buildings and programs are as follows:

  • Clarendon House, 3141 10th Street N.; Community-based rehabilitation of individuals with serious mental illnesses
  • Drewry Center, 1725 N. George Mason Drive; Behavioral Healthcare Division mental health, substance abuse, and psychiatric services
  • Edison Complex, adjacent to Virginia Hospital Center; Emergency services, Crisis Intervention Center of the Behavioral Healthcare Division
  • Fenwick Center, 800 S. Walter Reed Drive; Communicable disease investigation, environmental health, administration for Public Health Division
  • George Mason Center, 1801 N. George Mason Drive; Behavioral Healthcare Division administration and conference rooms

“Moving these programs into Sequoia Plaza will enable DHS to provide most of its services in one place, achieving operating efficiencies and offering convenience to DHS clients,” according to a report from county staff. “Clients in need of services that are provided in different locations currently must commute between the locations. That is highly inconvenient for the many DHS clients who lack vehicles or are disabled.”

Arlington says that despite these programs going from 83,850 square feet to 72,742, the space is adequate because Sequoia Plaza “is laid out more efficiently so that less floor area is required.” The base rent in the first year for the new space adds up to more than $2.2 million per year, which is projected to increase by 3.05 percent through the lease for Buildings 2 and 3 and 2.75 percent per year for the remaining space in Building 1.

The county has allocated $11.6 million for renovations to Sequoia Plaza, but the staff report says the consolidation of departments will “allow the County to avoid significant capital investments at the buildings being vacated.”

Photo via DHS

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